(from today's New York Times -- April 3, 2009)
PORTLAND, PORTLAND-STYLE -- TOURING BY BICYCLE.
Careering through streets on a bicycle in Portland, Ore., this time of year can be an easy weekend adventure that mixes showers, sunbursts, cafes and a robust bicycle culture. And equipped with a sturdy rain jacket, booties, fenders and a bike map (a waterproof version that folds to the size of a credit card is handy), visitors can enjoy the city the way locals do.
On a recent misty Friday evening, bicyclists wearing blinking safety lights formed a spontaneous, festive parade across the Hawthorne Bridge. The impromptu peloton flashed by like a line of flickering fireflies.
Tourists will find that Portlanders seem to know how to avoid the biggest gushers, perfecting the art of ducking into a cafe at the moment that passing showers soak the streets. “I’ve seen a lot of double rainbows this winter,” said Andrew Butterfield, a teacher at da Vinci Arts Middle School, who was drinking a coffee in the Hollywood neighborhood during one cloudburst.
For visitors, it’s possible to land at Portland International Airport and hop the MAX Light Rail to start a city tour. “You can just load your bike on the train and head into town,” said Don Shepler, a Portland-trained chef who, together with his wife, Erin Zell, runs Galena Lodge, a Nordic skiing retreat and summer hiking stop in southern Idaho. The couple enjoy returning to Portland for biking-and- food tours.
“The last time we were there we rode to a bunch of different restaurants on Alberta Street,” Ms. Zell said. “We’d enjoy a drink and appetizers and ride somewhere else.”
Days of clear weather come and go this time of year, but it never really rains that hard, Mr. Shepler said, adding that he liked the flow of bicycle traffic in Portland. “On the side streets with bike lanes you’re on the grid, and you can just go,” he said.
It helps to have a Bike There! map, published by the regional governing body known as Metro and available at bike shops and the downtown visitors center. A mapping program, found at byCycle.org, can help visitors pick the best biking route to markets, galleries, museums or other destinations.
Locking up at on-street bicycle parking stands downtown near the Portland Museum of Art, cyclists also take advantage of Benson Bubblers, drinking fountains in various locations around town. While filling a water bottle, it was impossible not to notice how many people are on bikes despite the rain.
“Portland is a really easy and comfortable city to use a bicycle as transportation,” said Roger Geller, Portland’s bicycle coordinator since 1994. “There is a lot of energy around cycling right now and it’s not just 20-year-old men racing. I see average people out biking.”
Mr. Butterfield, who has been a bicycle commuter in Portland for 20 years, suggests that visitors take a tour over the four bicycle-friendly bridges on the Willamette River (the Broadway, Steel, Burnside and Hawthorne Bridges) as a good way to get oriented. But a bridge tour only scratches the surface of biking opportunities in and around Portland. A trip on the tram from the river to the hillside campus of Oregon Heath & Science University reveals a compelling green landscape. Fresh snow on the volcanic peaks of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Range makes the view of the city hardly seem urban.
Riders who wish to delve deeper into Portland’s diverse bicycle culture can simply drop in on pubs like Hopworks Urban Brewery in Southeast, a tavern decorated with spare bike parts that serves organic beer.
Stopping at Hopworks pub was Brian Schultz, an engineer with Chris King Precision Components, a manufacturer of bike parts, transplanted to Portland from California, and his wife Molly Mattecheck Schultz, a former employee of Team Estrogen, an Oregon-based company specializing in fitness apparel for women. Conversation quickly turned to tales of their recent 5,000-mile coast-to-coast bicycle tour, inspired by their love of cycling in Portland.
“People were amazingly generous and trusting,” Ms. Shultz said of their trip, adding that it helped her gain a new appreciation for the commitment to bicycling in Portland. It’s not unusual to see women riding through the winter in skirts and knee-high boots, followed by athletes training in winter riding clothing, she said.
Portland’s embrace of bike culture means that there are hundreds of miles of bike lanes and multiuse paths already in place. “The goal is to become a world-class bicycling city,” Mr. Geller said. “There has been a linear rise in bike use, but in the last four years it’s been exponential.”
The steady flow of bicycle traffic also makes it easy for visitors to commune with fellow cyclists or at least to ask for directions. Street signs indicating the distance between points, including an estimated bicycling time, make Portland a logical city to navigate on two wheels. The signs are posted on streets commonly known as bicycle boulevards — quieter, safer alternatives to busier roads with bike lanes.
Visitors will find that special bike-crossing signals and bike lanes highlighted in bright green help to guide traffic in the most complicated intersections. Breaking up a ride with a stop at a cafe or a pub adds to the pleasure, said David Lord, a bike racer and elementary school teacher, who commutes by bike more than 4,000 miles each year. Bicyclists might also find themselves steered toward a slice at Mississippi Pizza Pub, chased by a beer down the road at Amnesia Brewing.
“There is an amazing selection of restaurants and brewpubs like the Lucky Lab and the Bridgeport Brewery, but my favorite thing to do is hit Powell’s Books,” said Mr. Rogers, the shoe designer. “Every trip I spend a few hours there, not only to check out books, but to check in with the world.”
Back on the road, Portland can sometimes look like an elaborate model railroad table with everything in motion, especially if viewed from one of the Willamette bridges. Riding toward North Portland on the Broadway Bridge, it is not unusual to see the Amtrak Coast Starlight train crossing the Steel Bridge headed for Union Station a little after 3.
“The thing about Portland is there are so many world-class rides at your fingertips,” Mr. Rogers said, as he prepared to ride with his best friend across the Willamette to Council Crest, said to be the highest point in the city, with a panoramic view of the Cascade volcanoes. “Portland’s pretty much roadie heaven.”
IF YOU GO. . . . . .
byCycle.org is an interactive trip planner that integrates the regional bicycle map.
BikePortland covers the Portland bike scene.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is a nonprofit organization that works to promote bicycling and improve bicycling conditions in Oregon and southwest Washington. Its Web site has plenty of links to resources for bicyclists.
The Community Exchange Cycle Touring Club promotes cycling as “a means of cross-cultural interaction and earth-friendly transportation by providing bicycle maintenance and bicycle touring resources.”
Shift calls itself a “a loose-knit and informal bunch of bike-loving folks” who organize bicycle events, including social rides, educational tours and art-bike parades.
“Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities” by Jeff Mapes investigates how cyclists in Portland and other cities and college towns work with the support of local government.
“Veer” is a film that looks at the lives and bike-centric social groups of five people in Portland over the course of a year. It is to be shown the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in New York on May 5 at 6:30 p.m. Charleston Moves is working toward a screening locally! Stay Tuned!
Friday, April 3, 2009
(from today's New York Times -- April 3, 2009)
Posted by Tom Bradford at 9:35 AM